Worry and Anxiety
Normal anxietyA child worrying too much is a common concern for parents. Some anxiety is normal and at certain ages particular fears are part of normal development. For example, in the toddler age group children will be briefly distressed when their main caregiver (often their mother) leaves. In early primary school children fear of animals (such as dogs) is common and in high school social concerns become frequent. A return to fears of earlier ages is not uncommon at times of stress.
Most of the time these fears or worries about them are part of normal development and will settle without professional help.
When to seek helpWhen fears or worries occur at later ages, do not resolve, cause more distress than for most children or lead to avoiding important activities, assessment is appropriate. Initially this is with your General Practitioner who may then refer to other health professionals such as a Child and Adolescent Psychologist or Psychiatrist.
TreatmentFor most anxiety disorders that affect older children and adolescents, a talking therapy (called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) that includes parent involvement is effective within several months. For younger children, the parents’ role is even more important, with parents working on how they respond to their child’s fears, worrying and attempts to avoid the feared situation.
This therapy involves identifying and challenging the fearful thoughts and the child gradually building up their tolerance for the feared object or situation in a safe way. For parents, addressing any fears they have so that they can provide a calm presence while the child does this is important. In addition, parents are often inadvertently helping the child avoid feared situations (which is perfectly natural given that the child is distressed) and it is important that parents help the child reduce and then stop avoiding feared situations.
When this is not sufficient or not possible, a particular type of medication is usually helpful (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs).
- Youth Beyond Blue: Understand What's Going On (AUS)
- Raising Children Network: Anxiety and Fears (AUS)
- Anxiety BC: Anxiety Disorders in Children and Teens (CANADA)